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Why Next Generation 911 Now

After more than a decade, NG 911 is poised to take off and the four largest telecommunications carriers have agreed to provide text-to-911 service by May 15.

During the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007, students and staff tried desperately to text 9-1-1 to the local dispatch center, but those messages were never received. Outdated infrastructure at U.S. public safety answering points (PSAPs) were only equipped for voice calls originating from landlines and mobile devices. That day, the shooter killed 33 people.

As a response, in part, to this tragedy, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the Text-to-911 program, which was a component of the larger Next Generation 911 (NG 911) initiative that began in 2003. The goal of NG 911 is to fix issues similar to what happened at Virginia Tech and provide a foundation for a wireless mobile society. Once implemented, PSAPs will be able to accept calls from any networked device; receive useful forms of non-verbal communication, including texts, images and video; and locate callers with greater accuracy.

After more than a decade, NG 911 is poised to take off and the four largest telecommunications carriers have agreed to provide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014. However, challenges remain. While the wireless carriers will provide the capability for citizens to text to 911, the infrastructure at the PSAP needs to be able to receive that text. This modernization is the responsibility of states and municipalities across the country, but it isn’t easy. Funding challenges and system interoperability problems have stalled progress. 

Research from a Center for Digital Government (CDG) survey indicates that many jurisdictions will be unprepared in May, and may not be ready to launch NG 911 services for many months or even years to come. When asked if they were considering replacing their e911 system, 73 percent of respondents said no or that they didn’t know. 

It seems despite the fact that planning for NG 911 began in earnest over 10 years ago, many jurisdictions are still unsure of the steps to take or are encountering obstacles like funding constraints that are difficult to overcome. Twenty-six percent of respondents indicated they were still researching what steps they should take.

When asked if they would be ready for text-to-911 service by May 15, 26 percent said they had no confidence they would be ready and 44 percent said it was “hard to say” if they would be ready. Only 6 percent of respondents had already implemented a NG 911 system.

How to Deploy Now

26 percent of public safety leaders will not be ready for text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014. Will you? Leave your comments below.

To discover more survey findings and learn how jurisdictions can move forward in creating the emergency communications infrastructure that best serves citizens needs today, download CDG’s issue brief, “Declaring Urgency for Next Generation 911.

General Dynamics is a leader in emergency management, wireless and IP-based communications for state and local public safety organizations.
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